As expected, U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman has released D.C. from the “Blackman” segment of the Blackman-Jones special education class action suit.
Friedman signed an order Monday dismissing Blackman, part of the 1997 suit brought by parents who charged that the city was incapable of providing services guaranteed to their children by law. A 2006 consent decree required the District to eliminate the massive backlog of due-process hearings for parents to secure services. A court-appointed monitor--and both sides in the case--concluded several months ago that the city had met the conditions of the decree.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray thanked Friedman at his weekly press briefing Wednesday. “While we have a long way to go, the court’s decision signals that we have made significant headway in addressing past problems,” he said in a statement.
The “Jones” portion of the case, which involves the timely implementation of hearing officer decisions and settlement agreements, is still in dispute. The benchmark is a timely implementation rate of 90 percent, which the District contends it has met. But a court-appointed mediator reported last week that the District was cutting corners in closing out cases and counting them as timely.
Former federal judge Richard A. Levie said he agreed with the findings of the court-appointed evaluation team that issues annual progress reports on District compliance with Blackman-Jones. In December 2010, the team cited “fundamental misjudgments” and “short cuts” in the handling and closure of “significant batches of cases as a result of the District’s rush to reach the finish line.” The timeliness rate was estimated at closer to 70 percent.
“The hard reality is that the required level of timeliness has not been met,” Levie wrote.